One of the things that our guests like about Andalusia is its food – and no this post isn’t about Montse’s cooking skills, but about ham. More specifically,about Jamon Iberico.
This delicacy is probably the most popular and highly-prized food in Spain and nowhere more so than here in Andalucia, where the Sierra de Aracena produces first-class cured ham from acorn-fed black-hoofed pure-bred Iberian pigs – the famous pata negra. For many, Spanish jamon iberico is simply the best ham in the world. We have had guests that want to take home a whole leg with them, but finally ended up with a far less than that, but just for practical reasons. But what is good ham about?
A few years ago a new labelling system was introduced as the previous rules for labelling jamon iberico , were confusing, leaving consumers unsure of what quality of ham they were buying. But some labelling was also actively misleading – a label showing a happy pig grazing contentedly on acorns (which produce the white fat and sweet taste) didn’t necessarily mean that the animal had been allowed to roam on the open woodland, nibbling bellotas (acorns) under oak trees.
There are two DOs (Denominacion de Origen) of jamon iberico in Andalucia: Jamon de Huelva and Los Pedroches (Cordoba). In the Alpujarras, the village of Trevelez is famous for its ham made from white pigs, but they don’t come under this system as it’s only for ibericos.
The labelling takes into account three main factors:
- the breed of pig: the Iberian pig, the small brown breed native to Spain, is the finest jamon producer. Some pigs will be 100% Iberian, with both parents pure-bred. Others will be part Iberian mixed with another breed – mother pure Iberian and father mixed; the percentage of Iberian must be specified so its exact genealogy can be traced.
- what it was fed on – there are now three categories, down from four: bellota (acorns), cebo del campo (natural grazing) or cebo (fodder).
- where it was raised: allowed to roam free (eating acorns or grazing naturally), or kept enclosed in a pen (and fed fodder). When being raised free-range, the number of pigs allowed per hectare is 0.25-1.25. For those in captivity, pigs weighing over 110kg must have a minimum of 2 square metres each.
These are the colour-coded labels:
- Black Label: This is the top category – the finest available – and indicates a pure-bred Iberian pig which has been fed only on acorns during the montanero period (October to February). It is free-range, being allowed to roam around outside under the oaks.
- Red Label: where the pig which was part-Iberian – the percentage of Iberian breed must be specified. The pig has been allowed to roam free, eating acorns.
- The Green Label pigs are at least 50% Iberian, and has been allowed to roam freely, eating both natural grazing and fodder.
- Finally the Whited Label ones are at least 50% Iberian, and has been kept enclosed in a pen and given fodder.
So choice enough and for everyone’s taste and wallet.